Moving abroad is exciting and fun but be prepared!
Having worked with internationals living abroad for over two decades, I’ve seen people make the move because they want to have a new experience, break with the old or – not so common but still valid – they feel a pull.
There are many reasons people make the move to a foreign country. Whether they choose to stay full-time or part-time, they are motivated to pack things up and make a new start.
Other reasons are: they want to step out of something, leave something behind, or don’t feel at home in their current country anymore. They move because it seems to be an ideal place for retirement, they go because of work, love, or economic reasons. Often because of the climate, and there are also those who moved by coincidence because they were visiting and decided to stay.
So, you’re here now … What happens next?
This new start is also a pathway to discover many new beginnings.
Breaking with the old and starting anew is a huge opportunity to reset and rediscover yourself. Simply because you will be challenged! You will be pulled out of your comfort zone big time. Not only because you have to make all kinds of new decisions about many different topics on a daily basis, you also lack your warm network of friends and family around you to support you.
Even though many people enjoy the move and are having a good time, there is also a lot of people who find themselves struggling with the many unexpected factors they face. These are things they couldn’t predict would happen because they’re part of the big unknown. At the end, they only know when they know!
I’m sharing tips and insights for your journey abroad, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Go ahead, take what you need.
Expat pains? Reinvent yourself!
These are emotional pains caused by relocation. You can recognise that you’re suffering from them when you’re experiencing any of the following:
▪ Struggling to figure out how to live a purposeful life.
▪ Finding it hard adjusting to the new culture.
▪ Coping with anxiety, relationship problems, bad health, homesickness, loss of direction.
▪ Finding it hard to overcome setbacks.
▪ Experiencing feelings of homesickness, loneliness, or isolation for long periods of time.
Everything in your new life is different! You’re not the same person you used to be; you’ve been stretched out of your comfort zone. Also, you have to reinvent yourself and your relationships.
Once you realise that Expat Pains are part of your chosen lifestyle, it’s possible to take care of yourself in a new and different way.
Here are my four best tips to a joyful life in Portugal
1. Build community
Search online, join a club, ask around. There are many people who are looking to build a meaningful circle of friends. Try it out! Take your time and, sooner or later, you’ll find your new ‘go-to person’ right there. It might be scary, it might fail, but it’s the way to go.
The first person you meet might not necessarily become your forever friend. They might simply be a stepping stone, someone to drink a coffee with. Just like you might become a stepping stone yourself for someone else in the future. But that is a risk you need to take. Going out to meet new people challenges you to reach out instead of withdrawing yourself. This is the positive side: you’re learning to surround yourself with your kind of people.
2. Build new traditions
Plan your week with activities and have them repeat on the same day the following weeks. This repetition will give structure and you’re building new automatic pilot pathways in your brain that help put your nervous system at ease.
Whatever structure you create, keep it up for several months and slowly you’ll find you’ve created a nice structure of traditions that function as a backbone for you to feel good in your skin.
3. Stay connected
In the beginning, you’ll frequently have calls with friends and family because everything is exciting and new, but, overtime, you might start skipping calls and become sloppy keeping up the connection. The big pitfall with this is that you actually create a distance, a gap that is harder to fill the longer it lasts.
The power of connection on a frequent basis is that you stay in the subtle communication area where people can sense when something is wrong. And also, where people feel invited to share their ups and downs. This kind of communication gets lost when you’re less in touch. You might ask yourself what kind of bond you would want to keep up with the home front over the years.
4. Find your new purpose
In this new chapter of your life, it’s exciting to find something purposeful to do, whether it is focussing on joy in general, or discovering what it is that you long to experience, create, manifest or contribute in life. Maybe you want to experience more creativity, vitality, love, belonging, impact or fulfilment in your life. Life is happening now! This is a great opportunity to focus your attention on what matters most to you. Why not use this time to figure out whatever it is that is worthwhile getting out of bed for in the morning?
All settled abroad? The rollercoaster to your dream life
A new country often brings about new challenges; learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and finding your way while having your safety net in another country can be challenging.
Some newcomers see this adventure as a joyful challenge and manage to go effortlessly through the learning curves of building a new life in their new country.
The following factors may play a role in this smooth transition:
- ▪ The person is already familiar with the culture or language due to previous visits.
▪ They have gathered information in an earlier stage and have a clear vision where they want to settle and what needs to be done.
▪ They get help from friends or family who already made the move, which might include landing in an already established support network of likeminded people.
Other newcomers who do not have a good functioning network may experience stress because of the many setbacks and hurdles they are facing. They didn’t anticipate that their move could be so challenging. They are aware that they need support in many different areas but are not sure where to find the right kind of help. On top of that, the culture and language gap can make things worse.
Working as a life coach for internationals living abroad, I recognise five different stages that internationals can go through when moving countries.
I’d like to give some insight and practical tips on how to navigate your way forward. I hope it helps you to understand that whatever emotional rollercoaster you might find yourself in, you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just part of the process.
Moving countries or continents is a huge step that often comes with many strong emotions. Anyone who takes the big step of moving abroad and immerses themselves in a new culture goes through this, whether stumbling or dancing their way forward.
The five different phases of moving country or continent
Depending on your situation, you will go through the different phases with either little or a lot of ease. Also, there is no set timeline for any of the phases.
1st – Honeymoon: I love it here!
You’re fully enjoying living here and having all the perks at your fingertips: a warm climate, gorgeous beaches, clean air, space, low crime rate, affordable living and unlimited possibilities to go out for wining and dining, or to play golf.
2nd – Shock: What did I do?
You find yourself being taken out of your comfort zone big time as everything seems more difficult than you had expected. Living here turns out to be much different than when visiting.
Dealing with utility providers or administrative tasks, for example, can be quite challenging. It is these little things that you have to deal with, and it tires you out. Your excitement is slowly changing into feelings of shock.
In the meanwhile, you start to miss the people that are close to you in your home country. Maybe you also miss some routines you enjoyed in your previous life.
3rd – Adjustment: willingness to find a way
You have some more experience now and know better how to deal with, for example, service providers such as technicians, electricians, gardeners or builders.
By now you have figured out how the banking machine works, where to buy your groceries and where you can find likeminded people. You have even built up some friendships.
4th – Acceptance: I can figure this out
You have learned many new things, you have found a way to deal with the challenges you face and you’re actually feeling empowered. When it comes to new challenges, you might approach them differently and accept them as being “part of the charm”.
5th – Commitment: I choose this!
Maybe you’ve learned to speak the language, you’re part of your own little community, and have built a network of likeminded people. You’ve also found a way to stay in touch with your friends and loved ones living abroad. You’ve established a safety net in both countries. Basically, you feel well with the life choices you’ve made.
Going through these phases, however, is not necessarily a linear path, but knowing about their existence gives you some understanding about the feelings you might have in the process.
If you feel lonely, reach out
If you find yourself feeling lonely, the best way to handle it is to reach out instead of withdrawing yourself. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone. Start by asking yourself what it is that you need right now. Be curious about the answers that come up.
Is it to have more moments of connection with others? Is it participating in a group activity?
Is it getting outdoors in nature? Is it physical movement to drain the emotions that are stuck in your body? Is it a more structured week with moments where you can socialise with loved ones or maybe make new friends?
Why self-care is so important
Take action. Contact the person you long to meet and schedule a meeting, go online and register for the course you were longing to participate in. This is how you upscale your level of self-care. Every time you can identify a need, be curious to find out how you can provide yourself with the solution.
Important to know is that you are not alone! Many internationals who are living abroad experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. Taking care of your emotions is a powerful thing. Look at it as a new skill to learn.
Ria van Doorn is a life coach for internationals living abroad and founder of the Expat Centre Portugal.